Chauncey DeVega

Police crackdown in Minnesota shows stark contrast in treatment of protesters compared to Capitol rioters

America's police and other law enforcement agents all too frequently use lethal violence. But in fact they are capable of great restraint and self-control when they decide to employ it. The decision to use force against a given person or group is all too often a function of skin color and politics.

On Jan. 6, a mob of Donald Trump's followers, nearly all of them white, attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election. This coup attack was incited not just by Trump himself but by a neofascist movement that includes the Republican Party, white evangelical churches and the conservative "news" media.

Five people would die because of the attack on the Capitol building. At least 140 Capitol Police and other law enforcement officers were injured that day, some of them seriously. Trump's mob was armed with a variety of weapons including guns, sharpened poles, baseball bats, stun guns, pepper spray and bear mace. Other weapons, including homemade bombs and an assault rifle, were later discovered in a pickup truck parked nearby.

Some of Trump's followers carried white supremacist flags and wore neo-Nazi and other right-wing terrorist regalia. The attackers also included Christian fascists who carried a cross and shouted Biblical verses as they participated in the insurrection.

After several hours of battle, Trump's mob successfully breached the Capitol building's outer layer of defenses. Once inside, they tried to find Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other high-ranking officials whom they deemed to be "traitors." We cannot know for sure what would have happened had they captured any such people, but a gallows had been constructed in the park across from the Capitol building.

This was all part of a plan — somewhat incoherent, but determined to stop the certification of Joe Biden as the duly elected president of the United States. Trump's mob also chased Black and brown Capitol Police officers through the building while screaming racist slurs and other hateful invective.

Instead of raining down hellfire on Trump's insurrectionists, America's trillion-dollar military machine and national security forces were ordered to stand down or otherwise delayed in their reaction to the crisis. The Capitol Police were also oddly subdued and neutered in their response to this attack on the literal heart of American democracy.

Later investigations have suggested that at least some Capitol Police assisted Trump's attackers in gaining access to the building or otherwise demonstrated sympathy with their treasonous cause.

It cannot be reasonably disputed that If the attackers had been Muslims, Black or brown people, members of antifa, Black Lives Matter activists or any other variety of "leftists," such an assault would never have been allowed to take place. Law enforcement would most likely have arrested the leaders during the planning stages. If the attack on the Capitol had somehow still taken place, lethal force would have been used by the Capitol Police and other law enforcement agents without hesitation. In all, the result would have been a massacre.

A new report from the Capitol Police Department's inspector general on the events of Jan. 6 offers additional insight into how and why their officers were so relatively tame in their response to Trump's attack force. As the New York Times reports:

The Capitol Police had clearer advance warnings about the Jan. 6 attack than were previously known, including the potential for violence in which "Congress itself is the target." But officers were instructed by their leaders not to use their most aggressive tactics to hold off the mob, according to a scathing new report by the agency's internal investigator. ...

Mr. Bolton [the inspector general] found that the agency's leaders failed to adequately prepare despite explicit warnings that pro-Trump extremists posed a threat to law enforcement and civilians and that the police used defective protective equipment. He also found that the leaders ordered their Civil Disturbance Unit to refrain from using its most powerful crowd-control tools — like stun grenades — to put down the onslaught.

The report offers the most devastating account to date of the lapses and miscalculations around the most violent attack on the Capitol in two centuries.

Three days before the siege, a Capitol Police intelligence assessment warned of violence from supporters of President Donald J. Trump who believed his false claims that the election had been stolen. Some had even posted a map of the Capitol complex's tunnel system on pro-Trump message boards. …

"Unlike previous postelection protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counterprotesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th," the threat assessment said, according to the inspector general's report. "Stop the Steal's propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike."

Consider the reaction of law enforcement to recent events in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, which offer a stark contrast to the events of Jan. 6.

A Black man named Daunte Wright was stopped by Brooklyn Center police on Sunday, supposedly because his car had expired registration tags. During the traffic stop, police determined that Wright had two outstanding misdemeanor warrants. As shown by their body cameras, Brooklyn Center police detained Wright. In a moment of panic, Wright attempted to get back into his car.

Kim Potter, a 26-year-veteran of the police department, shot Wright with one round from her Glock 17 pistol. As shown by the police body camera, Potter aimed the pistol at Wright for several seconds before shooting him. Potter has claimed that she believed she discharged her Taser, not her firearm. Potter resigned from the police department on Tuesday and was charged with second-degree manslaughter on Wednesday.

In response to Wright's killing and a larger pattern of documented police abuse against the black and brown community in the Minneapolis area (including the high-profile police killings of George Floyd and Philando Castile), this week has seen several days of largely peaceful protests. There have also been minor incidents of looting and other vandalism. During the evening hours, some protesters at the Brooklyn Center Police Department and an FBI satellite office have thrown water bottles and other projectiles at local police and other law enforcement.

As occurred during the George Floyd protests last summer, the governor of Minnesota, the Brooklyn Center mayor and other area leaders have deployed the National Guard, state police and other forces. In response to the evening protests and curfew, law enforcement have used tear gas and stun grenades, and deployed at least one armored vehicle, snipers and tactical teams.

It hardly needs stating that nothing even close to that level of force was used against the Trump followers who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Militarized police, in Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country, are trained to view Black and brown communities and the people who live there as "insurgents" and "enemies." Importing the logic and tactics and training from America's forever wars abroad has resulted in a dangerous escalation of violence against non-whites, the poor, undocumented immigrants and other communities and individuals deemed to be a threat. White communities, especially those which are middle class and affluent, are not subjected to such violence.

Writing at Tom Dispatch, William Astore explains what happens when America's imperial forces come home in the form of police and other law enforcement:

It's taken years from Ferguson to this moment, but America's cops have now officially joined the military as "professional" warriors. In the wake of George Floyd's murder on May 25th, those warrior-cops have taken to the streets across the country wearing combat gear and with attitudes to match. They see protesters, as well as the reporters covering them, as the enemy and themselves as the "thin blue line" of law and order.
The police take to bashing heads and thrashing bodies, using weaponry so generously funded by the American taxpayer: rubber bullets, pepper spray (as Congresswoman Joyce Beatty of Ohio experienced at a protest), tear gas (as Episcopal clergy experienced at a demonstration in Washington, D.C.), paint canisters, and similar "non-lethal" munitions, together with flash-bang grenades, standard-issue batons, and Tasers, even as they drive military-surplus equipment like Humvees and MRAPs. (Note that such munitions blinded an eye of one photo-journalist.) A Predator drone even hovered over at least one protest. …
It's not enough to say that the police are too violent, or racist, or detached from society. Powerful people already know this perfectly well. Indeed, they're counting on it. They're counting on cops being violent to protect elite interests; nor is racism the worst thing in the world, they believe, as long as it's not hurting their financial bottom lines. If it divides people, making them all the more exploitable, so much the better. And who cares if cops are detached from the interests of the working and lower middle classes from which they've come? Again, all the better, since that means they can be sicked on protesters and, if things get out of hand, those very protesters can then be blamed. If push comes to shove, a few cops might have to be fired, or prosecuted, or otherwise sacrificed, but that hardly matters as long as the powerful get off scot-free.

What do we know about how America's police treat Black people, as compared to white Trumpists and other right-wing extremists who attacked the Capitol and continue to menace the country?

Police are more likely to use force against Black people, including lethal force, as compared to white people in comparable scenarios. At every level of encounter with America's law enforcement and criminal justice system, Black people are treated more harshly and punished more severely than white people charged with identical or comparable crimes.

As part of the failed "war on drugs," Black and brown people are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for drug possessions as compared to white people, even though all racial groups use drugs at roughly comparable rates.

Recent research has shown that peaceful participants at Black Lives Matter and other liberal and progressive marches and protests are much more likely to be arrested than are Trumpists and other right-wing extremists.

Other reporting shows that police appear much more likely to detain and arrest members of antifa and Black Lives Matter (and liberals and progressives more generally) at protests and similar events than they are Trump followers and other right-wing extremists — even when the latter are engaging in violence and other criminality.

Those outcomes corroborates research showing that white supremacists, right-wing militias and other extremist groups have extensively infiltrated police and law enforcement agencies. The FBI has reported that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists now constitute the greatest threat to public safety and security.

The subculture of American law enforcement is conservative and authoritarian. By implication, this means there is an affinity between many of America's police and Trump's followers and other right-wing extremists.

The divergent responses of law enforcement and national security forces to the Capitol attack as compared to the protests in the Minneapolis area (and in other parts of the country) against police brutality and thuggery are not examples of "hypocrisy," a "double standard" or some type of contradiction. In fact, this is the American law enforcement system behaving almost exactly as designed. Ultimately, the police are agents of social control. The question then becomes who they are controlling, and who is most often the target of their lethal force and other violence.

American law enforcement values property over people. It is a tool for enforcing the power and privilege of white people over nonwhites. It protects the interests of the rich and corporations over those of the poor and working class.

America is correctly described as a type of "carceral society" where the working class and the poor, the homeless, nonwhite people, the mentally ill and otherwise disabled, migrants and refugees, and other marginalized groups are surveilled and subjected to arrest, abuse and incarceration to a far greater extent, and in more brutal ways, than rich, white middle- and upper-class people.

There has been much discussion about a need for an American reckoning to heal the country's wounds caused by neofascism, white supremacy and the social inequality and injustice that have been exposed and accelerated by the Age of Trump and the coronavirus pandemic. Part of that reckoning must involve acknowledging how America's police reproduce, enforce and encourage the violence, racism, cruelty and injustice that fuel Trumpism and American neofascism.

Right-wing propaganda is annihilating the truth about Jan. 6 — Democrats must seize control of the narrative

The attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump's forces on Jan. 6 is one of the most documented crimes in American history. Trump's coup attempt and related events were publicly planned. As president, Trump himself continually made such threats throughout his time in office. He personally summoned his followers to Washington in the days leading up to the 6th, and many of his followers recorded themselves attacking the Capitol and its defenders, or posed for selfies after they breached its defenses and entered the building. These acts of collective narcissism have become key evidence in the federal manhunt for Trump's insurrectionists. The events of Jan. 6 were also recorded and tracked by surveillance cameras, both at the Capitol and throughout Washington and the surrounding area.

A new feature in Time magazine by Vera Bergengruen and Bill Hennigan offers the following details:

Surveillance and law enforcement body cameras captured more than 15,000 hours of footage. The federal government has snagged some 1,600 electronic devices, each likely teeming with electronic communications. Citizens from across the country have flooded the FBI with more than 270,000 tips, which include videos, photos and social media posts. And the rioters themselves extensively captured their exploits on camera, posting hours of digital evidence of the rampage. Thanks to that torrent of evidence, more than 370 suspects have been arrested on charges related to the insurrection.

When viewed in total, the images, sounds and video footage of the mayhem at the Capitol (including news coverage of the day's events) offer a compelling story about Donald Trump and his Republican Party's treason and embrace of terrorism. Democrats could and should use Jan. 6 to tarnish the Republican Party and Trump's movement such as to effectively force them from public life, so that being identified as a Republican or Trump follower would be a mark of ignominy.

Every media appearance by a Republican in an interview or appearance on a cable news panel should be prefaced with the question, "Do you support Donald Trump and the events of Jan. 6?" That way, prominent Republicans could constantly be forced to reject Trump and his movement and followers. Television ads recycling the most striking images from the Capitol attack could be used to ensure that the American people are not permitted to throw the insurrection down the memory hole in an act of organized forgetting. Treason, terrorism and betrayal of America would forever be linked to the Republican Party and Donald Trump.

One can only imagine how effectively the Republicans and their news media and myth making machine would use such a gift if the situations were reversed.

What has the Democratic Party chosen to do instead? It has collectively decided to move on, in order to avoid what its leaders fear might be the "distraction" caused by public hearings and other investigations into the Trump regime and its crimes against democracy and the American people. That decision is a tactical and strategic error, one based on the false assumption that the Republican Party's obvious involvement in the national betrayals of Jan. 6 cannot or should not be used to advance the Democratic Party's overall agenda.

Moreover, by attempting to put aside events of Jan. 6 for reasons of political expediency and "bipartisanship," the Democrats are all but guaranteeing that the Jim Crow Republicans and larger American neofascist movement will continue to attack multiracial democracy — and will attempt another coup at some point in the near future.

There is another dimension to these dangers as well: Not to punish the coup plotters and attackers to the maximum extent possible is to grossly underestimate the power of ideas and images.

When Trumpists and other right-wing extremists in the United States and around the world watched the Capitol being overrun, and a coup against the "world's leading democracy" come perilously close to succeeding, they witnessed what was possible for their movement. Victory is achievable — not as something far off in the future, but in the here and now.

The Republican Party and the global right have created an alternate reality and closed epistemology uniquely suited to weaponizing the images and symbolism of Jan. 6. The Democrats and others beholden to "normal politics" and the norms of shared reality, truth and the presumed merits of democracy do not have that advantage.

That inability is in many ways the result of their role in the managerial state and a largely unquestioned belief in the inevitable nature of progress and the triumph of reason. This translates into how Democrats, liberals and progressives are overwhelmingly focused on facts and figures, the details of public policy, and are committed to the counterfactual belief that the public is rational and will make good decisions if presented with rational arguments and factual evidence.

By comparison, Republicans, Trumpists and members of the global right have fashioned themselves as heroes, conquerors, saviors, destroyers, disrupters, accelerationists and chaos agents. Their political agenda functions as a type of religion, in which faith is more important than empirical reality and where dogma supersedes intellect and reason.

Ultimately, today's Republican Party and right-wing movement have created a parallel universe. They are also immersed in a storytelling tradition and political imagination that is fixated on violence and the apocalypse. For Christian fascists this manifests as the "end times." To the degree such groups can be disentangled from one another, for white supremacists, anti-government militias and right-wing libertarians the apocalypse will take the form of a "race war" or other societal collapse. QAnon cult members are obsessed with "the Storm" and Donald Trump's supposed defeat of the "deep state." Other "conservatives" have a wish-fulfillment paranoid fantasy about a chaotic new civil war in which they can use their assault weapons rifles to kill "radical leftists," Black Lives Matter supporters, antifa members, nonwhite immigrants or whatever other group is deemed to be the enemy.

Fox News and its lead propagandists, such as Tucker Carlson, are central to the how today's right-wing and conservative movement are annihilating the truth and empirical reality. Carlson is particularly skilled and effective in that role. Most recently, he has begun to mainstream white supremacist lies about how Black and brown people will "replace" the white majority population in America. The implication is clear: White people, especially white "conservatives" in rural or exurban areas, need to use violence to defend themselves against an existential threat from unnamed others, seen as usurpers or invaders.

Carlson has also been working to destroy the truth about Trump's coup attempt and his followers' attack on the Capitol. Now, in the Fox News MAGAverse, the insurrection did not really take place. Instead, Trump's supporters are peaceful "patriots" who are being demonized by "the left." Such lies only serve to encourage more right-wing terrorism.

On this, historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat warns in a new essay for CNN:

The truth of Jan. 6 — that the insurgents showed rabid hatred of the police officers and security guards — presents a problem, given the pro-law enforcement sentiments of Trump's base. So it's best just to flip the script and turn murderous rage into hugs and kisses.
That's why the Fox News host Tucker Carlson opened a recent show with the claim that the insurgents "didn't have guns," which attempts to direct attention away from (and also contradicts) hours of video evidence and testimonies about the large number of weapons, some military-grade, the exceedingly well armed insurgents carried into the Capitol.

Trump and his allies are using a second tactic as brazen as the first. Even while denying the violence, they are blaming it on a familiar enemy: the left. Johnson and Carlson have been prominent fabricators of a reality in which left-wing extremists were the real Capitol rioters. This, too, is a propaganda classic: accusing an enemy you have already invested many hours in demonizing. It's far more efficient. And with some audiences, it works.

Although 61% of Americans responding to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll think Trump "is at least partly to blame for starting the deadly Jan. 6 riot," only 28% of Republicans agreed with that statement. And more than half of the Republicans questioned agreed that Jan. 6 was the work of "violent left-wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad."

What should Democrats, liberals and progressives do to counter the right-wing "disimagination" and fantasy machine?

First, they must accept the fact that diehard Trump Republicans and other right-wing extremists are not going to return to normal society. Their commitment to authoritarianism and neofascism is deep: It is now a part of their core identities. No amount of effective legislation to improve the material realities of their lives will win them over as a group. Despite supporting aspects of Biden's political agenda such as COVID relief and infrastructure, Trumpists and other Republicans as a whole will not abandon their political cult in the upcoming 2022 and 2024 elections. Fascism in its various forms is a sickness of the soul and spirit more than of the mind.

More important, Democrats, liberals and progressives need to learn to tell better stories. These stories must claim the moral high ground and embrace the idea of a righteous crusade to protect the America's democratic values. In turn, such a crusade can create space for legislation that improves the lives and futures of the American people. There have been recent moments when such moral clarity has been summoned: see Sen. Bernie Sanders and his unrepentant, unapologetic truth-telling. President Biden has had such moments as well in his quest to become a progressive, transformational leader in the mold of Lyndon Johnson or Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The advice to "tell better stories" is not new. To save the soul of America in this ongoing battle against neofascism, Joe Biden, the Democratic Party and their allies on the left need to embrace that advice wholeheartedly. It is the foundation for defeating the Jim Crow Republicans, the right-wing extremists, the Christian fascists, the plutocrats and other anti-social, anti-life and anti-democracy forces.

Leaked video reveals a GOP plan to intimidate Black and brown voters in Houston

Donald Trump's neofascist slogan, "Make America Great Again," was always best understood as a threat against nonwhite people, women, the LGBTQI community and others for whom "the good old days" were in many ways not very good at all.

Although Trump may no longer be president, the Republican Party and his followers are still continuing with his crusade.

Because Republicans understand they cannot free win free and fair elections, their party — and the larger white right — is simply trying to stop Black and brown people from voting in Georgia (and soon in many other states as well). This Jim Crow-style campaign is part of a nationwide strategy by the Republican Party and its agents to keep those Americans who support the Democratic Party from being able to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote.

Today's Jim Crow Republicans have mated white supremacy and neofascism, in search of creating something like Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin's "managed democracy." The result is a horrible mixture of right-wing racial authoritarianism and anti-democratic fervor. In their attempt to create a new type of American apartheid, the Republicans and their agents are willing to use all means available, legal, quasi-legal or illegal.

As revealed Thursday by Common Cause Texas, the Republican Party in Harris County — which contains Houston and is the third most-populous county in the nation — is planning to organize what is described as an "Election Integrity Brigade" of thousands of pro-GOP election workers and poll watchers. This group of Republican operatives will be sent into predominantly Black and brown communities to engage in de facto acts of voter intimidation and harassment under the pretext of stopping "voter fraud."

This "Election Integrity Brigade" will be a permanent group, not just a list of volunteers called out during election season. As explained by the Republican official who conducted the briefing obtained by Common Cause Texas, the goal is to also recruit poll watchers and other volunteers through "military partnerships." Such a plan is especially troubling given Donald Trump's coup attempt and his followers' attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the prominent role played by retired or active members of the military and law enforcement.

In an evident nod to racist fears and bigotry, Harris County Republican leaders explains that these poll watchers must have "courage" and "confidence" to do such work in Houston's Black and Latino communities.

NBC News offers additional details:

Harris County GOP Chair Cindy Siegel confirmed in a statement to NBC News that the program aims to recruit "an army of volunteers" throughout the county as a way "to engage voters for the whole ballot, top to bottom, and ensure every legal vote is counted." Siegel also called Common Cause "a radical leftist group that is blatantly mischaracterizing a grassroots election worker recruitment video in a shameful effort to bully and intimidate Republicans."

The Harris County Republican Party's intimidation campaign is literally transcribed from the Jim Crow reign of terror, when white people in Southern states would physically prevent Black people from voting. Many of the white people who enforced these racist Jim Crow rules or regulations were armed, and even if they did not have weapons on their person at that moment, the threat of violence was omnipresent.

Once permission has been granted for these assaults on Black and brown peoples' freedom and dignity — as it was by the Age of Trump — they will only escalate in boldness, frequency and, inevitably, violence.

Of course the professional "serious people" in the mainstream news media and professional commentariat have spent recent weeks trying to talk down the concern that the Jim Crow Republicans are literally trying to take away Black peoples' right to vote.

At many of America's leading news outlets, such voices have criticized President Biden for his "tone," because he said that Republicans were engaging in "Jim Crow on steroids" in Georgia and elsewhere. Other members of the "church of the savvy" and adherents of the "view from nowhere" have also tried to litigate and parse whether the Georgia anti-democracy bill really bans giving food or water to voters in line food and water (it does), or tried to argue for reasonable interpretations of the law that leaves Republicans looking less blatantly racist. (Spoiler: Today's Republicans are in fact blatantly racist.)

Jonathan Chait at New York magazine used odd language, for example, in taking Biden to task for his choice of words and describing the Republican Party's current attack on black people's voting rights as "Jim Crow Lite":

President Biden has contributed to the confusion by describing Georgia's vote suppression as akin to, or even worse than, Jim Crow. Contrary to the president's hyperbole, it is more like Jim Crow Lite than "Jim Crow on steroids."

But Jim Crow Lite is still very bad.

Of course, the Jim Crow Republicans and their mouthpieces took to cable news and other media outlets to play the victim, bemoan "cancel culture" and deny the obvious racism and white supremacy driving their campaign to stop Black and brown people and other likely Democratic supporters from voting, a campaign that now spans 47 states and more than 350 proposed laws.

One of the most perverse claims made in defense of the Jim Crow Republican attacks on voting rights in Georgia is that turnout in Georgia and elsewhere has actually increased after barriers to vote were enacted by Republican governors and legislatures. This is like saying that if you can run faster when being chased by an ax-wielding serial killer, then he's doing you a favor.

Those public voices who are trying to downplay the dangers to democracy represented by the Jim Crow Republican Party are, in the worst case, enablers of such civic evil. In the "best worst-case scenario," those voices are offering analyses from their own myopic perch of privilege (most often the position of being white, male and affluent). They have the luxury of imagining themselves detached from "emotions," and have convinced themselves that white supremacy is controlled by a dial that can be carefully calibrated. In reality, it is more like an old, frayed but powerful electrical switch that frequently sparks, shocks whoever is touching it and possesses the potential to blow out the electricity in the entire building — or start a fire that destroys the neighborhood.

I offer a thought experiment. What if Black and brown people who support the Democratic Party started going into majority-white suburban neighborhoods where many people vote Republican, and acted as poll watchers who were trying to stop voter fraud? Given that there is much more reason to monitor Republicans for efforts to undermine, steal or nullify elections, there might actually be a legitimate need for such vigilance in white neighborhoods.

But how would white people react to that idea? Moreover, what if the Democrats were to take power across the country on the state and local level and then impose the same kinds of limitations, in an obvious attempt to interfere with conservative white people's right to vote? What do you suppose would happen then? At the barest minimum, many of the same voices now trying to minimize the danger represented by the Jim Crow Republicans' attack on voting rights would howl in outrage.

Trump supporters got hustled, fleeced and lied to — but don't be fooled. They still love him as much as ever

Individuals join cults because they are seeking meaning in their lives. Many people who join cults are also lonely or emotionally damaged and want some sense of family and larger community. The cult leader sees his or her followers as extensions of their ego and an opportunity to accrue personal, financial and often sexual power. In nearly all cases, cult leader and followers are tied together in a knot of collective narcissism.

Donald Trump is a political cult leader who commands tens of millions of followers. After he finally, reluctantly accepted defeat in the 2020 presidential election and retreated to plot his next steps from his Mar-a-Lago hideout, the cult members are leaderless — at least for now.

How are they reacting to these events? Many, of course, are angry and remain trapped in collective delusion. New research suggests that some of them are experiencing despair or feeling "despondent."

A new report from Democracy Corps, a polling and research firm led by longtime Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg, offers some insights learned from focus groups with Trump followers.

As Alternet reports, "diehard Trump voters were bitterly disappointed that he lost the election, and Democracy Corps' focus groups found that they are in a state of total despair."

Democracy Corps explained that these disillusioned Trumpists "felt powerless" in the wake of electoral defeat, and believed that the Republican Party "failed to act with the same determination and unity as the Democrats. They believed Democrats were smarter, rigged the election, had a plan to grow their support, and stuck to their guns — unlike the fickle Republican leaders who gave up on Trump."

That is of course misguided on a world-historical scale, but not entirely surprising. Nor is it surprising that racism and white supremacy play a key role in how Trumpists feel about their place in America society and politics:

Democracy Corps found that "the Trump loyalists and Trump-aligned were angry, but also despondent, feeling powerless and uncertain they will become more involved in politics…. The Trump loyalists and the Trump-aligned are animated about government taking away their freedom and a cancel culture that leaves no place for White Americans and the fear they're losing 'their' country to non-Whites."

Democracy Corps also found that "Trump loyalists and the Trump-aligned" were "angered most of all by Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa" and believe those movements "were responsible for a full year of violence in Democratic cities that put White people on the defensive — and was ignored by the media."

Before Democrats and other Americans who oppose the Trump cult and the Jim Crow Republican Party celebrate their downfall, they should take a lesson from the landmark 1956 book "When Prophecy Fails," which showed that "true believers" within a cult movement will simply adjust their beliefs when faced with disappointment. Through that process, cognitive dissonance is resolved in order to justify the original predictions as somehow still being true. Such predictions could be about the arrival of alien spacecraft or the end of the world — or about how Trump's battle with the "deep state" now continues in a different form, and he and his movement will be victorious on some future date, after being "betrayed" on Election Day 2020.

When viewed through such a lens the support of Trump's followers for their Great Leader appears to be much more enduring and deeply felt than many would like to believe.

The New York Times has reported that Trump's campaign effectively stole tens of millions of dollars from his own donors through a deceptive scheme that led Trump supporters to unknowingly authorize repeated bank withdrawals and credit card charges. Even after being blatantly defrauded, many Trump followers remain loyal, like Ron Wilson, a man interviewed by the Times:

Mr. Wilson, an 87-year-old retiree in Illinois, made a series of small contributions last fall that he thought would add up to about $200; by December, federal records show, WinRed and Mr. Trump's committees had withdrawn more than 70 separate donations from Mr. Wilson worth roughly $2,300.

"Predatory!" Mr. Wilson said of WinRed. Like multiple other donors interviewed, though, he held Mr. Trump himself blameless, telling The Times, "I'm 100 percent loyal to Donald Trump."

Trump's white evangelical Christian followers also remain staunchly loyal to him, despite (if not because) of his unrepentant and chronic sinfulness, which leads some to regard him as a prophetic figure. As new research from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows, white evangelical fealty to Trump is at its core driven by a commitment to Christian nationalism, racism and a desire to overthrow secular multicultural society.

Republicans and other Trump followers have convinced themselves, or been programmed by the right-wing disinformation machine to believe that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and coup attempt was either nonviolent, did not happen at all or was a provocation staged by antifa or Black Lives Matter activists. Other polls and research show that a large percentage of Republicans generally support the events of Jan. 6 and believe political violence may be necessary to protect "traditional America" — understood as white supremacy.

Donald Trump himself may be out of power — and whether he is capable of mounting a political comeback is unclear. But his followers are not going anywhere. They have had a taste of what is possible when a fascist movement takes power and validates their pain and emptiness — and their desire to hurt those people they deem to be "un-American."

Much to the consternation of Americans who believe in the Constitution, the rule of law and multiracial secular democracy, the Republican Party and its allies are not going to change the minds of Trump's followers, or otherwise abandon them.

Why should they? Trump himself remains remarkably popular among Republican voters — more popular than the party itself. His voters still largely believe that the 2020 election was stolen by the Democrats. The right-wing terrorist insurgency inspired and encouraged by the Trump movement shows no signs of going away.

Trump may have been defeated, in other words, but Trumpism has not. That neofascist movement has many tens of millions of followers, waiting for a new strongman to emerge. When that happens — and there should be no doubt it will — will Democrats and their voters be prepared for the long hard fight to save American democracy?

Legal scholar: There will never be enough consequences for what Trump has done to the country

In the United States, there is one set of rules for rich people (especially if they are also white) and another set for everyone else. That unjust and anti-democratic system is reflected across American society. The country's wealth and income inequality is so extreme (especially the race-wealth gap) that it more closely resembles that of a Third World autocracy than one of the world's richest countries and a "leading democracy."

There is the "legal" theft. The county's laws are literally written by the rich and the powerful. In turn, those laws represent their interests and goals over and above those of the average American. Political scientists have actually shown that America's elected officials on the national level are largely not responsive to the demands and needs of ordinary people.

The tax code is one such example of how the rich and powerful have created a system that rewards their class with subsidies, tax breaks, write-offs and other benefits to such a grotesque extreme that some of the country's richest individuals, families, and corporations pay no taxes at all — and in many cases actually receive "refunds" from the American people. "Job creators" and "too big to fail" are convenient shorthand to describe rent-seeking behavior and the ways many of the country's plutocrats and other members of the elite classes are economic and social parasites.

Even allowing for the fact that the nation's laws are written to serve the interests of the rich and powerful, new reporting has shown that the top 1 percent of income earners still hide or otherwise do not report at least 20 percent of their income. That theft is on a massive scale: It is estimated to cost the American people $1.4 trillion over a 10-year period. The FBI also reports that so-called white collar crime costs the American economy hundreds of billions a year.

This should not be a surprise, but is still shocking: The IRS is much more likely to audit or otherwise investigate poor and working-class people than the rich.

Of course, the rich and powerful have found a way to profit from the misery, death and destruction caused by the COVID pandemic. The Institute for Policy Studies estimates that the world's richest people have increased their wealth — measured in the trillions of dollars — by at least 50 percent during the coronavirus plague year.

In a pre-election article for the New Republic, Ankush Khardori explained how the Age of Trump and its many disasters created an ideal environment for white collar criminals:

The figures, disconcerting enough on their own, tell an incomplete story. Things are even worse than they look. Three and a half years after Trump took office, white-collar criminal enforcement is in its worst state in modern history — the result of top-down disinterest in, and occasional outright hostility toward, prosecuting financial crimes; the installation of inexperienced and occasionally inept political appointees and senior officials; and enforcement priorities that are alternately misguided, inexplicable, and politically motivated. Virtually every part of the white-collar enforcement apparatus at the Justice Department is broken.
As we approach the end of Donald Trump's first term, it's clear that it's never been a better time to be a white-collar criminal. Amid a pandemic that shows no sign of abating, as well as an economic recession that shows all signs of getting horribly worse, the question is whether anyone — including Trump's possible successor, Joe Biden — is going to do anything about it.

Ultimately, the Trump regime and its allies provide an almost ideal example of how rich and powerful people can abuse and break the law, enrich themselves by doing it, and face few if any consequences for their anti-social behavior.

Jennifer Taub is a legal advocate, as well as professor of law at the Western New England University School of Law. Her most recent book is "Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime." Her previous book was "Other People's Houses: How Decades of Bailouts, Captive Regulators, and Toxic Bankers Made Home Mortgages a Thrilling Business."

In this conversation, Taub explains how America's two-tiered legal system encourages financial and other crimes by the very rich. She also explores how members of that group learn that behavior throughout their lives and then normalize it. In addition, Taub profiles two cases, the opioid epidemic and the 2008 mortgage crisis and financial crash, that typify the widespread harm caused by white collar crime.

Taub also reflects on a basic but powerful counterfactual: if Donald Trump had been properly punished by the law and imprisoned for the many financial and other crimes he committed earlier in life, the horror and pain caused by his presidency would likely have been avoided.

There are these hope-peddlers and others in the news media and elsewhere who keep suggesting that Donald Trump may go to jail or suffer some other severe punishments for his obvious crimes. When I hear such fables, I respond with a laugh. At worst, Trump will pay a fine. Members of his cabal who may face charges will likely do the same thing and plead out. There may be civil settlements. But none of the high-level Trumpists are going to prison. Rich people do not throw other rich people in jail. The powerful rarely if ever hold each other accountable.

Will Donald Trump ever go to prison? Wearing my lawyer hat, I am supposed to speak in a slow, sober tone and say that before there is even a discussion about whether Donald Trump spends any time in prison there has to be a process and a trial, and then after that, if the prosecution proves the case, then, yes, that day will come. My more honest and yet cynical answer is that there will not be enough consequences for Trump, given what he has done over his lifetime to this country, his ongoing harmful and dangerous behavior. Even if they "lock him up."

This is not the movie The Wizard of Oz where someone is going to pour water on Donald Trump and he is just going to melt. Ivanka and Jared and the other people in Trump's orbit and inner circle are not going to melt into a big pool of water on the floor either — and suddenly there will no longer be an oligarchy in America, or suddenly the billionaires will disappear who own most of the wealth in this country. That is not going to happen. We need to move forward. Bringing Trump to justice is not enough.

What is Donald Trump an example of?

Donald Trump is a perfect example of what is extruded from this unfair and sometimes corrupt system in America. Trump is somebody who is white, wealthy and well-connected and who used questionable behavior and sometimes criminal tactics to gain and sustain wealth and power.

What makes Trump unusual, in my opinion, is how high in society he climbed. Trump has been involved in potentially illegal activity for decades and was able to get away with making civil settlements.

Had Trump been held accountable before he ran for office back in 2015, he would have spent time in a federal prison instead of in the Oval Office. Trump is an example of the danger that we face as a society when we let people get by, because it's easier just to settle than to prosecute. For many of the civil settlements involving Trump and his businesses there could have been criminal punishments. It is just easier for the government to bring civil cases and settle with people sometimes than to charge them criminally. That is the same thing that happened after the financial meltdown of 2008, where we have examples of senior bank executives who settled their cases with regulators and then avoided criminal charges.

As a class of people, how are the rich different from everyone else? How does their world work?

Consider a rich white kid. It is a cradle-to-grave system. People from the white suburbs go to rehab, they don't go to jail. The cops tell you, "Turn down the music and go home." They don't escort you to the police station. That system of protections for the wealthy continues throughout their lives.

What does that cradle-to-grave system look like?

Leona Helmsley once said that "taxes are for the little people." Spin that out more to "Laws are for the little people." The problem with Helmsley is she said the quiet part out loud and was too mean and too greedy and so she went to a Club Fed prison for 18 months. She was the exception, not the rule.

There's a saying accountants tell their well-to-do clients: Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered. Yet for every example set, there is plenty of space for the rich and white, especially rich white men, to make mistakes and be forgiven time and again. That is also a space to be predatory and have one's behavior covered up and otherwise ignored. And it's not just about getting away with crime, it's also about getting by without all that much effort or merit.

It's the ability to be of average ambition or average motivation or average performance and still be assured a safe place to live. To still be assured a decent standard of living and the respect of society and the ability to go about your life even as an adult making mistakes. They know they won't end up living on the street because of their mistakes. It is astonishing to see how different the world of the rich is from how everyone else lives.

How does America's two-tiered legal system work in practice?

We have a double standard in the American criminal justice system that reflects and perpetuates inequality. Cutting legal corners is a tool for advancement only available to the already affluent.

The wealthy not only increase their power by evading punishment, but also benefit from a criminal justice system that incarcerates those with lower social status who also attempt to use crime to get ahead. Scale that up to a multinational corporate enterprise dodging the law, and the disparities are even more stark. Corporations guilty of felonies enter into deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements with the government and reoffend again and again. Yet high-level executives are rarely prosecuted.

Even when the exception proves the rule, and a high-status individual is prosecuted and convicted, the double standard carries into sentencing, where statutory guidelines require judges to give serious weight to a convicted felon's past contributions to their community. Such leniency fails to acknowledge that preemptively spreading around ill-gotten funds to charities is a con artist's trick to gain public trust, manipulate community do-gooders and inoculate themselves. Forgiveness is often reserved for the fortunate.

The federal prison system allows wealthy offenders better conditions than ordinary convicts, with low-security camp settings for the former and dangerous caged conditions for the latter. Often, when top-shelf felons — like 1980s junk bond king Michael Milken, 1990s lifestyle guru Martha Stewart and recently released Enron CEO Jeff Skilling — complete a prison sentence, they rejoin high society with sufficient funds to rehabilitate themselves and relaunch their careers with little lasting stigma.

In 2019, the actress Lori Loughlin, indicted in the college admissions scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues, reportedly sought to hire a crisis management firm that might fashion her redemption in Martha Stewart style. In contrast, the impact of incarceration on the poor and working class can be irreversible for both the defendant and their children for years, if not generations, to come.

What does justice look like in America for the rich and the poor, the elites versus everyone else?

We are all entrenched in a legal system that helps the most powerful protect their private property and contract rights. And that same system subordinates those with less resources and power.

The same system and same courts set up to oversee those types of private disputes also handle criminal matters with a similar mindset. Criminal laws as written, interpreted and enforced tend to punish far more severely those who take property from the wealthy, and let off the hook the giant enterprises and wealthy individuals who take things of value, including lives, from the middle class and poor.

To me, equal justice would mean that prosecutors would have a "collateral consequences" standard applied to ordinary people, not just business organizations, before they prosecute. We would have treatment available and not prison for drug offenders. We would also eliminate cash bail and only impose pre-trial detention on those who are a flight risk or a danger to their community or themselves.

In your book, you detail how the opioid crisis is an example of criminality and lack of accountability in America for the very rich. Can you share some of those details?

Purdue Pharma shows the failures on the part of the Department of Justice in terms of enforcement and repeat offending. This is a company that was prosecuted previously. In 2007, the company did plead guilty to a felony for misbranding OxyContin under the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. Three senior executives — none of them Sackler family members —pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. But the company continued on.

A decade after the 2007 guilty plea, the civil lawsuits brought by the states and private individuals begin. At the end of the Trump regime in 2020, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty again as part of a DOJ settlement with the company. This time, in addition to pleading guilty to conspiracy to violate the the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act and to defraud the United States, Purdue also pled to violating federal anti-kickback laws.There were also civil charges against the Sackler family.

But where are the criminal charges against them or other real people? This is an example of how the failure to hold individuals accountable for the crimes of the organizations they are running or participating in does not create any kind of deterrence. It is not real accountability. It completely undermines the public trust. The Sackler family made billions of dollars. They are one of the wealthiest families in America. They amassed a reported $14 billion fortune and joined the ranks of America's 20 wealthiest families. Meanwhile, more than 232,000 fellow Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2018. All these poor and working-class people died from overdoses. The message is that some lives and families matter, and others do not.

The 2008 financial collapse is another example of how the rich are not held accountable for their crimes.

The nonpartisan reports on the financial crisis show that at every link of the toxic mortgage supply chain there was actual criminality. There are many who say things like, "Well, it was perfectly legal!" That is not true. There were loan originators who were encouraging people to lie on their forms. They were using whiteout to change people's income. There was fraud throughout the process from top to bottom. Decades of deregulation helped to fuel this.

As a society we do not have to live this way. We can create a kind of shared prosperity. We can create a system where we don't have financial bubbles, or if we do have bubbles and market downturns, the people with the least do not have to suffer the most. Likewise, the people with the most do not have to gain more wealth. This is happening right now with the so-called K-shaped "recovery." I am grateful that the Biden administration seems to understand this problem and has responded with the COVID relief stimulus and hopefully the infrastructure bill gets passed as well.

There was a recent announcement that the very rich, the top 1 percent, hide 20 percent of their income or find ways not to report it. By some estimates that may be $1 trillion dollars or more over a 10-year period that is not collected in taxes. What are the practical implications of that thievery for the average American?

For example, when people are not paying what is legally required of them it means that someone else is not getting help recovering from their drug addictions, so instead they turn to crime. It means that the roads and bridges are not safe. It means that kids do not have access to preschool. Because the rich are not paying the taxes they owe and otherwise hiding income, it means that they are a de facto criminal class. The 1 percent are literally becoming wealthier and more powerful from criminal behavior. They use their influence to change the laws so that they pay fewer taxes, and this includes underfunding the IRS.

What are the tax investigators and others looking for with Trump and his inner circle? What does "criminality" in that context look like?

In Trump's case, apparently both the Manhattan DA and the New York state Attorney General are looking at tax fraud under state law. More generally, the reason why tax fraud can be so prevalent is that there is a voluntary system of compliance for the most wealthy.

Ordinary people who work for a living have taxes withheld by their employers, paycheck by paycheck. The very wealthy, however, earn money in all sorts of ways that they are supposed to self-report including investment income and consulting arrangements and sales of assets like artwork or jewelry for cash. While in some cases investment firms will report to the IRS on behalf of customers, banks do not need to report incoming and outgoing payments, so there is a great deal of unreported income. So, then it's up to the wealthy to tell the IRS truthfully and to assess losses that they can subtract from their income truthfully.

Trumpers now seeking redemption: Does America just want to forget and ignore all that has happened?

Nothing good emerged from Donald Trump's regime, which combined any number of malevolent tendencies: authoritarianism, white supremacy, neofascism and anti-human ideology. Destruction and political sadism were its instruments and its goals. It was also massively corrupt, a carnival of greed, corruption, self-dealing and fraud.

As part of a coordinated campaign of terror, the Trump regime put nonwhite immigrants and migrants in concentration camps where women and girls were sexually abused. Women in some of Trump's camps were also subjected to forced hysterectomies. The regime also stole migrant and refugee children away from their parents, literally disappearing them into a labyrinthine bureaucracy. Many of these children will never be reunited with their families.

Trump and his movement went so far as to attempt a coup to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the infamous assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump was impeached for the second time (which is unprecedented in American history) because of his role in these events. Of course, his Republican collaborators and possible co-conspirators in the U.S. Senate refused to convict him.

The Trump regime's response to the coronavirus pandemic led to the deaths of more than 550,000 people, through a mix of negligence, incompetence and cruelty. As many as 400,000 of those people would likely be alive if the Trump regime had acted responsibly and in the public interest.

These democidal acts were part of a much larger pattern of behavior: The people of Puerto Rico were largely abandoned by the Trump regime in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The regime also attempted to harm Americans it deemed to be "disloyal," meaning Democrats and others who do not support him.

Where are the consequences? Where are the investigations? Where and when are the public hearings? Where is the truth committee? Why have Donald Trump and members of his regime not been prosecuted and tried for crimes against humanity?

There will be no such punishments or accountability beyond the merely performative and ceremonial — if we even get that much. Republicans in Congress, unsurprisingly, are obstructing any such efforts — they are largely determined to continue with Trump's mission, and in any case were collaborators and co-conspirators in the Trump regime's crimes.

What about the Democrats? The party leadership does not want the "distraction" of proper hearings and accountability for the crimes and evil of the Trump regime. In their eyes such proceedings would only distract energy and attention from enacting their legislative agenda. President Biden wants "unity" and "bipartisanship." He is crafting himself as the next Lyndon Johnson or Franklin D. Roosevelt with his own version of the Great Society and New Deal.

The mainstream news media wants a return to "business as usual," which in practice means that they can return to the obsolete habits and norms that helped to encourage and then normalize Trump's neofascist regime and assault on American democracy.

The elite consensus, in other words, is clear: The Age of Trump needs to be disappeared, thrown down the memory hole, so that America and the world can go back to "normal." Organized forgetting is a collective project: most Americans are cooperating because they believe (or at least hope) that it will make the trauma and pain of the Age of Trump go away.

Instead of accountability, ignominy and public shame, former officials of the Trump regime are on a rehabilitation tour, being repackaged as "reasonable" and "respectable" people, insider "experts" who will have lucrative careers as right-wing spokespeople and media personalities.

In one of the most noxious examples, Stephen Miller, a white supremacist and professional hate-monger, is now presented on Fox News and elsewhere as an "immigration expert." In a marginally just world — one in which the United States was a mature and morally sound culture instead of a pathocracy — Miller would now be standing trial for crimes against humanity at the Hague. Instead, he is further polluting the country's public sphere and discourse.

And then there is Dr. Deborah Birx, she of the fashionable scarves. Birx was formerly one of the most respected public health experts in the world. Then, in February 2020, the Trump regime made her the White House "coronavirus response coordinator." In effect, her role was to provide cover and legitimacy for the Trump regime's irresponsible, incompetent, and lethal response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is now known that matters were even more dire than was widely understood, in terms of the spread and lethality of COVID-19 and its variants. Likewise, the Trump regime's response was even more incompetent than most people could have imagined.

Instead of sharing this information with the American people and the world, Birx chose to be silent. By doing so, she became a collaborator and enabler of the Trump regime's evil. She shares responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Birx's defense is a common one among collaborators in fascist, authoritarian and other such regimes: "If I left or spoke out matters would have been even worse. I was a moderating influence."

There were many public voices who anticipated this moment, in which America stands at a crossroads, facing a decision about accountability and responsibility for the crimes and misdeeds of the Trump regime and its allies.

In an interview with Salon last March, historian David Perry warned:

We're in a moment in which the corruption of the government is running so deep and so wide and in so many different ways that there is not going to be any one pathway out of it. To look forward and not back will just enable people to continue to steal and will enable distrust in institutions.

In America, we need to have a system that is dedicated to exposing the truth. This process of truth-telling must be based upon some principles: "These are the things that happened. Here are the records. Here are the documents. Here are the things we know that have been altered, that we've been able to track down." Consider how the Trump administration changed the photo of his 2016 inauguration. That was only discovered by happenstance.

How many other things have been changed that the American people and the world do not know about? And that they won't know about unless dedicated resources and investigators go through receipts, go through emails, look at images and check for documents? How will we know? The American people and the world must know the truth.

Historian Jill Lepore, on the other hand does not want a post-Trump truth and reconciliation commission, calling that a "terrible idea." In an October 2020 column for the Washington Post she wrote:

In the end, the strongest argument against either criminal trials or a truth tribunal, should Biden win, is that it would let the Democratic Party and every other institution that is not the Republican Party off the hook for driving the nation into a flaming cauldron. The left is keen to blame the right. But what the nation needs, pretty urgently, is self-reflection, not only from Republicans but also from establishment Democrats and progressives and liberals and journalists and educators and activists and social media companies and, honestly, everyone….
No commission can demand that each of us tell the truth about ourselves and reconcile ourselves to one another. Meanwhile, as for people you disagree with, and probably hate, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.

In a July 2020 essay for the Atlantic, Anne Applebaum reflected on the Trump regime's collaborators and questions of accountability:

The price of collaboration in America has already turned out to be extraordinarily high. And yet, the movement down the slippery slope continues, just as it did in so many occupied countries in the past. First Trump's enablers accepted lies about the inauguration; now they accept terrible tragedy and the loss of American leadership in the world. Worse could follow. Come November, will they tolerate — even abet — an assault on the electoral system: open efforts to prevent postal voting, to shut polling stations, to scare people away from voting? Will they countenance violence, as the president's social-media fans incite demonstrators to launch physical attacks on state and city officials?
Each violation of our Constitution and our civic peace gets absorbed, rationalized, and accepted by people who once upon a time knew better. If, following what is almost certain to be one of the ugliest elections in American history, Trump wins a second term, these people may well accept even worse. Unless, of course, they decide not to.

In a November 2020 column for the Washington Post, historian Samuel Huneke offered this lesson about denazification in Germany and its lessons for a post-Trump America:

What can we learn from Germany's rocky path of denazification? To state the obvious, the United States is not Nazi Germany. The Trump administration, for all that it has done, has not committed genocide or launched a transcontinental war of aggression. The crimes of Nazi Germany were of a different magnitude than those of President Trump. Nonetheless, the questions that confronted Germans in the 1940s and 1950s are parallel to those we confront today: how to make sure future governments never commit such crimes again — or worse.
The postwar German experience of denazification suggests a twofold approach. On the one hand, we must hold those who have committed crimes accountable, allowing justice free rein, even if its targets are the ex-president, his family or former Cabinet secretaries. Congressional inquiries, too, may serve a valuable role in uncovering wrongdoing and suggesting structural reforms. On the other hand, the Biden administration must be careful to avoid talk of collective guilt, for which there is no judicial remedy and which can serve only to alienate those who might yet return to the democratic fold.
We must also bear in mind that denazification was a process that took decades and was never truly complete. Trials for wrongdoers were a necessary component of staving off future calamity. But just as denazification provided only a basis for future democratic development, so would trials of Trump officials be only a starting point for the social and political reforms we so urgently need, reforms that will also require our politicians to confront this country's legacy of racism with greater clarity than ever before. Like Germany in 1945, we have an opportunity to reimagine our society. The Biden administration should seize it.

In total, the decision not to hold the Trump regime and its allies accountable for their crimes is an illustration of why America's elites are experiencing a legitimacy crisis. The United States is a two-tiered society: There is one set of rules for the rich and powerful and another set of rules for everyone else.

Trumpists are allowed to cause destruction, pain, death and misery without consequences. Even worse, many of them, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other members of the regime's inner circle became (even more) fabulously wealthy because of the ways they abused their power and literally ran the White House and the federal government as a personal bank and influence-peddling operation.

By comparison, many millions of poor, working-class and (formerly) middle-class Americans are now unemployed because of the pandemic. Many Americans who are lucky to still have jobs are not earning a living wage: Indeed, wages have been stagnant for 40 years and opportunities for upward economic and social mobility are increasingly rare.

Elites can fail in America and be rewarded — and in many cases be promoted upwards. Elites are also subsidized by the public purse through bailouts, tax write-offs, public subsidies, outright tax theft and manipulation of the tax code in their collective interest. The average American is told to "sink or swim" in a winner-take-all economy and society. As has frequently been observed, neoliberalism amounts to "socialism" for the rich and free markets and survival of the fittest for everyone else.

In other examples of a profoundly unequal American society, many tens of thousands of poor and working-class people are stuck in jail because they cannot afford bail, even at modest amounts. Rich people routinely break the law and are allowed to walk free.

Even the seditious and treasonous events of Jan 6. reveal the contradictions of American society and questions of justice. Trump's followers who assaulted the Capitol are being hunted down by the full force of federal law enforcement and the national security state. Many of those traitors and terrorists will be sent to prison, as they should be. But the ringleaders and coup plotters in the Trump regime and Republican Party — who inspired, commanded and perhaps even helped coordinate the attack on the Capitol — will in all likelihood never be punished.

The experience of living in a two-tiered society fuels rage, on both the left and the right, against a political, social and economic system that is manifestly unfair. Such rage is the fuel for populism, be it the fake authoritarian white supremacist and nativist populism of the right-wing or the real "we the people" outrage at injustice found among progressives and liberals.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are viewed with distrust if not outright disdain by a large portion of the American public. They are deemed, not altogether unfairly, to be inheritors and protectors of a corrupt system in which the interests of corporations and rich and powerful individuals are prioritized over those of the American people.

Ultimately, one outcome is all but guaranteed if members of the Trump regime and their allies are not held responsible and punished for their crimes and other wrongdoing. American neofascism will be further empowered toward a renewed attack on multiracial democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law. Why should it be otherwise? If there is no punishment and accountability for the Trump regime and its allies, then their crimes were just a test run for what lies ahead.

Author of 'How Fascism Works' on the question raised by Georgia's new voting laws: Do we live in a democracy?

The hope-peddlers and their related ilk in the mainstream news media and elsewhere would like the American people and global public to believe that Donald Trump and his neofascist movement were defeated on Election Day and by Joe Biden's ascendance as president of the United States. They were not.

Trump's forces attempted to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, a plot that culminated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Law enforcement and other experts predict that the United States may experience years, if not decades, of terrorism and other political violence by right-wing insurgents who have been inspired and mobilized by Trump's presidency and movement.

The Republican Party is the front organization — the "polite face" — of American neofascism. In that role, the party and the broader "conservative" movement (including think tanks, interest groups and consulting firms, as well as individual political operatives) have escalated their long-planned strategy to destroy multiracial secular democracy.

In Georgia and 42 other states, Republicans and their operatives are enacting legislation to stop Black and brown voters and other members of the Democratic coalition from voting. Ultimately, this is an attempt to impose a new Jim Crow-style apartheid regime in America.

The New York Times summarizes the details of this new war on voting rights:

After record turnout flipped Georgia blue for the first time in decades, Republicans who control the state Legislature moved swiftly to put in place a raft of new restrictions on voting access, passing a new bill that was signed into law on Thursday.

The law will alter foundational elements of voting in Georgia, which supported President Biden in November and a pair of Democratic senators in January — narrow victories attributable in part to the turnout of Black voters and the array of voting options in the state.

Taken together, the new barriers will have an outsize impact on Black voters, who make up roughly one-third of the state's population and vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

The Republican legislation will undermine pillars of voting access by limiting drop boxes for mail ballots, introducing more rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting and making it a crime to provide food or water to people waiting in line to vote. Long lines to vote are common in Black neighborhoods in Georgia's cities, particularly Atlanta, where much of the state's Democratic electorate lives.

Republican policies and ideas are unpopular with the majority of Americans. Demographic changes are also making the Republican Party's white supremacy and racism unappealing to large swaths of the public. In response, Republicans and the white right are attempting to end multiracial majoritarian democracy and replace it with a pseudo-democratic system political scientists describe as "competitive authoritarianism."

In a recent tweet, the Atlantic's Adam Serwer neatly describes this anti-democratic and anti-human logic: "The country is simply theirs; if democracy produces an outcome other than Republican victory then democracy as they understand it has ceased to function."

The hope peddlers, stenographers of current events, professional centrists and others who have consistently underestimated the Republican threat to democracy have done so largely because they deluded themselves into believing that fascism is something that happens "over there," and was defeated on the battlefields of Europe and Asia during World War II.

The troubling reality is that American fascism has existed for centuries in such forms as white on black chattel slavery; genocide against First Nations people; the creation of a white American empire under Manifest Destiny; concentration camps where Japanese Americans were imprisoned; white supremacist violence against brown people along the U.S.- Mexico border and in Texas, California, and the Southwest more generally; and Jim and Jane Crow terrorism and its legacy in "post-racial" America in the Age of Trump and beyond.

Jason Stanley is a professor of philosophy at Yale University and the author of several books, including "How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them" and "How Propaganda Works." His essays and other commentaries have been featured in such leading publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Review and the Guardian.

In this conversation he explains how the Republican Party and white right are manipulating language and symbols in their campaign to stop Black people from voting in Georgia as part of a larger attack on democracy. Stanley also details how Trump's coup attempt and his forces' attack on the Capitol was a crystallization of various elements — including Christian Nationalism, the QAnon conspiracy theory, the neo-Confederate movement, and right-wing paramilitaries and militias — which constitute the core of the American fascist movement and imagination.

Stanley also warns that the attacks on democracy in Georgia and across the country are an ominous sign: Donald Trump may no longer be president, the neofascist movement marches on and American democracy is still imperiled.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Joe Biden's approval level is high, and even some Republicans are temporary converts to his cause of healing the nation. The American people have gotten more support through Biden and the Democratic Party's survival checks and other programs. Biden is trying to be a true leader who obviously cares about the American people and loves the country. But he has only been president for two months. There is all this organized forgetting about the evils of the Trump regime. The American people have been so traumatized that they are desperate for hope. But it is far too early to celebrate given Trumpism's enduring power, his coup attempt and a growing right-wing terrorist insurgency. Am I being too cynical?

You can't have unrelenting hopelessness. At a certain point people just shut off. Hungary is a good example of a country without any political hope at all right now. Democracy is done there. Viktor Orbán is going to be in power until he dies. What happens if a people do not have any success in fighting back and resisting to save their country's democracy? They acclimate. If you are going to live your life in an authoritarian society, often with brutal dictators, a person acclimates to it. They shut off their political side.

I think it's important to have those moments, like in Georgia, those victories that people can look to. The battle there is by no means over. The Republican Party knows its weakness in terms of winning elections democratically. Now the Republicans are systematically targeting democracy. The other day I was thinking: What was it like to live during Jim Crow as a white person in the North? You knew that the South was robbing all Black Americans of the right to vote. Well, we are looking at such a situation now, with the Republicans systematically taking away the right to vote. It is an emergency. The rot is deep. The Republican Party has become an anti-democratic party and they know that they are not going to win elections by a majority vote. Democracy is not over – but there is a potentially very grim future ahead.

As an expert on fascism, what did you see as you watched Trump's coup attempt and the attack on the Capitol?

It was a moment of social chaos. With Trump's claims about the election, it gave license to his followers. But I was actually expecting much worse and I have felt that way for some time.

I am surprised the attack on the Capitol was not more violent. I was also concerned that law enforcement agents would join in the attack too. There were concerns about other formal parts of government too given the likes of Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

How does the Capitol attack on Jan. 6 by Trump's supporters cohere into an over-arching narrative of American neofascism?

The kind of fascism here in the United States is white Christian nationalism that is connected to the Southern Confederacy "lost cause" mythos. Now there is an additional dimension, which is a new "lost cause" myth that is the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and his movement.

At the Capitol attack there were people dressed up like Vikings and other characters from Norse myths, which is more of an example drawn from classic European fascism — for example, the "shaman" wearing the horns. In total, the attack on the Capitol involved the unification of Southern white Confederacy supporters, the lost cause, and Christian nationalists. Add the worship of Trump, and it is a cult of the leader.

What is the role of the QAnon conspiracy theory, and conspiracism more generally, in American neofascism?

It is utterly central, in that the "enemy" is not legitimate in terms of democracy. The "enemy" is depicted as being a fundamental threat to the nation. The structure with this new American neofascism and its conspiracism mirrors KKK ideology and Nazism with the idea that there are these "leftist elites" — in the past and even in the present, those "leftist elites" would be "the Jews." In that imaginary, "the Jews" are trying to provoke and manipulate Black people into a "race war" that would destroy the nation. Now they have included feminism and the rights of gays and lesbians in their conspiratorial narrative.

In the end, it is really an old story about "defending the nation," which in turn means defending white Christian patriarchy. The importance of patriarchy in these neofascist conspiracies must be remembered. These conspiracy theories are deeply patriarchal. They are centered around child sex abuse and the sex trafficking of women. At its root the narrative is: "Your women are at risk and you need a strong leader to protect them." Those enemies want "your women." The enemy is going to turn your boys into girls. They're going to take "your women" and traffic them. They're going to take your children. These conspiracy theories are central to a politics of fear, and a politics of fear makes a person and group crave a strong leader.

The role of emasculation, both literally and metaphorically, is important in the QAnon neofascist imagination. That and many other right-wing conspiracy theories are fixated on embattled masculinity and weakness, and fears by men that they cannot protect their women and children. And the ultimate protector in their view of the world is the white Christian male.

That is correct. These types of conspiracy theories such as QAnon make that aspect of fascism very salient and central. If a man cannot protect "his women," then he is truly emasculated.

The "cancel culture" right-wing myth-making is also centered on similar threats and anxieties. It is all deeply existential, where the internal logic is that we white right-wing Christian conservatives are going to be "canceled," meaning destroyed by "those people." Violence, then, is a natural and logical response.

The economic is shifted to the cultural. Then the language becomes one of how it is a culture war of annihilation. You are correct: The culture war narrative is about existential enemies. What the right-wing's narrative involves are claims of existential threat because "they," "the enemy" — here being the "left," Democrats, progressives, liberals, etc. — are trying to destroy "our" culture.

Now the focus becomes central elements of childhood. The "enemy" is trying to rob you of your childhood identity. And remember your childhood? It was nostalgic and innocent. They're trying to rob you of your past! The right-wing culture war narrative is creating a narrative and logic that "the enemy" is doing a horrible wrong to you. The sense of anxiety you feel, it's because your past was stolen away. They're trying to say that your past, the nostalgic childhood things you loved, are evil. Dr. Seuss, Disney. And moreover, they're trying to tell you your childhood was racist and evil. The right-wing cancel culture strategy makes their public furious. Now the anxieties about the future are refocused there instead of on other matters.

How does one counter this?

The first thing is to remove the sense of impending doom and anxiety from them. That's what the Biden administration is trying to do. The only way we know how to do that is economically. You will always have people with immature emotional impulses. The only thing you can do is try to minimize the anxiety.

The idea that white supremacy, racism, neofascism and other anti-human philosophies and movements can be stopped through money and resources is a very orthodox left way of approaching these problems — this idea that material realities are at the root of such social problems. There is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. For example, there are many rich or upper-class white people who support Trumpism and other forms of American fascism. They are not suffering from "economic anxiety."

We are never going to get rid of the problem. We can only reduce the support for these types of fascist conspiratorial ideas and movements.

Slavery and Jim Crow are America's native form of fascism. How does that help to explain what is happening in Georgia and other parts of the country, with these efforts to stop Black and brown people from voting?

What is happening in Georgia and other parts of the country is clearly continuous with our Jim Crow past, with superficially race-neutral barriers to voting designed specifically to place serious obstacles to voting for Black, poor and urban voters. Instead of literacy tests, you have well-designed strategies based on empirical research about voter access that are being implemented to impede democracy. Most frighteningly, these laws further politicize the election administration process, to a degree that compromises the claims of states that pass such legislation to be democracies.

Republicans clearly were paying attention in 2020 to the obstacles that prevented Trump from overturning the election. They have focused precisely on those obstacles across the relevant states and removed them with surgical precision. You will now legally be able to discard votes from Black-majority cities. It's legal. That's vitally important to pay attention to — when you write into law the basis for disenfranchising populations you don't like, it's time to reevaluate whether or not you are living in a democracy.

What did you make of the anti-democracy Georgia voting bill being signed into law in a room of masked white men, under a painting of a Black slave labor prison camp, while a Black Georgia state representative, Park Cannon, was being arrested for trying to enter the governor's office to witness these events?

Politicians pay close attention to imagery. It is implausible to think that the symbolism was not intentional.

How are the Republican Party and white right using propaganda and other manipulations of language — which are in fact assaults on reality — to create a new Jim Crow system?

This is what I describe as "undermining propaganda." You use an ideal to subvert that very same ideal. "One person, one vote" is used to push voter disenfranchisement laws. You claim that you are "protecting" democracy while in fact you are undermining it. It is a standard approach to propaganda — undermine the thing you are claiming to protect. An even better description for that strategy is "immolation." Democratic ideas are being immolated. The way the destruction is concealed is by racism. The Republican Party and broader right wing, in its attacks on democracy, say that they care about "real votes" and "genuine votes." What are the genuine votes? In their mind, the genuine votes are the white votes.

Why the right wing was triggered by Michael Moore's dark but profound joke

The right-wing "cancel culture" mob has once again grabbed their torches and pitchforks. Their newest target is documentary filmmaker and political commentator Michael Moore.

What is Moore's most recent offense?

In response to Monday's mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, Moore tweeted "The life of Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa shows that people can come from all over the world and truly assimilate into our beloved American culture," and included an image of the Statue of Liberty.

Alissa is the alleged shooter in the Boulder tragedy. He was born in Syria but came to the United States as a child in 2002.

Reasonable persons may choose to disagree with Moore's timing, or his tone. But the fact remains that his comments about the Boulder mass shooting are largely correct.

Those on the right and elsewhere who are performatively "outraged" at Moore's comment are just angry because he spoke the truth about America's gun culture and our societal addiction to mass shootings and gun violence.

A society's culture is not a buffet where a person chooses the things they like and then ignores or denies the existence of those they do not. Such thinking is immature, simplistic and lacks nuance. In other words, it confirms what research by social psychologists, neuroscientists and others has shown about how conservatives and right-wing authoritarians think about morality, politics and society more generally.

As demonstrated by historian Richard Slotkin in his landmark book "Gunfighter Nation", guns and gun violence are central to America's culture and identity.

During an interview with Bill Moyers about the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Slotkin elaborated:

And what we have in this country is we have a history in which certain kinds of violence are associated for us with the growth of the republic, with the definition of what it is to be an American. And because we are also devoted to the notion of democratic individualism, we take that glorification of social violence, historical violence, political violence, and we grant the individual a kind of parallel right to exercise it, not only to protect life and property but to protect one's honor and to protect one's social or racial status. In the past that has been a legitimate grounds.

To that end, mass shootings and other examples of gun violence are one of the principal ways that America is truly an "exceptional" nation.

As I explained in an earlier essay at Salon:

The U.S. has the highest rate of gun-related deaths among wealthy nations. The number of deaths from gun violence would be even higher if not for dramatic recent advances in trauma and emergency medicine.
The U.S. has more guns per capita than any other country in the world — even more than Yemen, a nation torn apart for years by a bloody civil war. In fact, there are more guns in the United States than there are people. Gun violence is estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $200 billion a year, according to a 2019 report.
It is especially worth noting that just 3 percent of gun owners possess half the total number of guns in America. Some of these "super-owners" have dozens of guns. They are overwhelmingly white and male. …
While gun "advocates" have created superhero narratives, such as the fantasy about "a good guy with a gun" who stops "a bad guy with a gun," the reality is that a gun owner is much more likely to shoot a family member, a neighbor, a friend or themselves — by accident or suicide — than a criminal assailant. "Defensive gun use" statistics are inaccurate and wildly exaggerated.

Many members of the right-wing chattering class and others of that tribe are responding to Michael Moore's basic observations about guns and American culture as though they had suffered a narcissistic injury. This is true more generally in how the American right responds to nearly all attempts to enact reasonable gun safety laws.

But what is the source of this injury? For many gun owners, especially right-wing white men, the gun is a key part of their core identities in terms of privilege, sense of self and power. It is not just the gun that they fear will be regulated — they believe their literal personal existence will be imperiled if access to guns were to somehow be even marginally curtailed. Such deep attachment to guns as an extension of the self is largely explained by what social psychologists have termed "terror management theory."

This posits that because human beings are aware of their own mortality, they therefore develop compensatory behaviors which include cultural institutions like religion and patriotism. Symbols such as flags, and in the case of Christianity the crucifix, have a totem-like power which gives the believer and follower a sense of immortality. These systems of meaning and dynamics are at work on both a conscious and subconscious level, for individuals and society as a whole.

In American culture, guns have effectively become sacred objects. In that role, the gun is a means of symbolic and literal protection from death. It is also a tool for getting and keeping one group's power over others as seen with the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of black people, militarized policing, and the creation and maintenance of American empire.

Moore's tweet about guns and American culture were even more triggering for conservatives and other members of the right because he included an image of the Statue of Liberty, a sacred object in the national imagination.

It is no coincidence that death anxieties are a key factor that correlate with high levels of support for Trumpism and other authoritarian movements.

Public opinion polls show that as mass shootings and other gun violence has increased in America, Republicans actually oppose gun safety efforts even more. Predictably — and far more logically — Democrats and liberals respond to mass shootings and other gun-violence tragedies with greater support for gun safety laws.

Death anxiety has a profound influence on American politics in other ways as well: In red-state regions where coronavirus rates (and death rates) are highest, support for Donald Trump during the 2020 Election was also at its highest. In essence, death and sickness have made Trump's followers increasingly loyal to him and the Republican Party.

Ultimately, America's inability to create and enforce effective gun laws is rooted in competing conceptions of freedom. Conservatives emphasize "negative freedom" and a belief that government should be shrunk down to the bare minimum, and that "freedom from" is the most important aspect of democracy and human existence.

Liberals, progressives and other more humane thinkers understand that government can play a positive role in society. In this conception, "positive freedom" means that citizens can live better and more productive lives where, for example, they are free from anxieties about being killed in a mass shooting, or free from the fear that they may fall ill and not have access to health care, or free from the fear that their environment is dangerously polluted.

To state this equation differently, a gun owner's freedom ends at the boundaries and limits of public safety. Likewise, the "personal freedom" not to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic ends at the health and safety of other people.

A healthy democracy always involves a balance between these positive and negative understandings of freedom.

What Michael Moore hinted at in his tweet about gun violence is the reality that we need to embrace a new form of American patriotism, one grounded in the facts and realities of American history, life and culture.

If the American people keep on lying to themselves about who they are, then the plague of mass shootings and gun violence will continue — and all the other existential problems in our society that feed into this epidemic of violence will keep getting worse as well.

American crisis: The horrific Atlanta killings shows a democracy still under threat

In the early morning hours last Wednesday, two news stories were adjacent to one another on the front page of CNN.

One was titled: "U.S. intel report: "Russia attempted to interfere in 2020 election to help Trump.""

The other: "8 dead in shootings at 3 spas in metro Atlanta."

When read together, they announced: America needs help."

That first CNN story concerned a new report just released by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, finding that Russian operatives "sought to inject misleading information" about Joe Biden into the 2020 campaign through officials close to Donald Trump:

The real bombshell it contains is not the confidence of the spy agencies that Russia hoped to subvert American democracy. It is that US intelligence experts effectively confirmed that for the second election in a row, Trump acolytes repeatedly used, knowingly or otherwise, misinformation produced by the spies of one of America's most sworn foreign adversaries to try to win a US election.

Setting aside the issue of whether Trump or his campaign actively "colluded" with Russia, this report points toward "a damning reality: Moscow with its election meddling, Trump acolytes pushing false claims of voter fraud and his GOP supporters in the states now passing voter suppression laws share the same goal — the denigration of the U.S. democratic system."

As reported at CNN and elsewhere, Russia's election-interference strategy in 2016 and 2020 involved sophisticated influence campaigns, largely channeled through social media, that were designed to increase racial tensions (and create violent confrontation) on issues such as police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement and protests, and to amplify partisan hostility overall on wedge issues such as gun control.

Russian operatives have also been working with white supremacist terror organizations in both the U.S. and Europe to cause chaos with the goal of undermining multiracial and multiethnic pluralistic democracies.

The second story last Wednesday was about the horrific mass shooting in the Atlanta area, where a white man armed with a 9mm pistol allegedly shot and killed eight women — six of them Asian — at three different massage parlors. Robert Aaron Long, the accused shooter, is 21 years old and had purchased the weapon legally earlier that day. Long has reportedly denied any specific racist motivations, but the effect of these killings on the Asian-American community has been devastating. It appears possible or likely that Long was radicalized into violence by his right-wing Christian fundamentalist church.

The relationship between these two news stories is not linear and not a matter of direct cause and effect, but rather a shared energy of doom and frustration that so much is so very wrong in America. There is of course the pandemic, a broken economy and the lingering traumas of the Age of Trump and its aftermath.

Then there are the institutional, structural and cultural problems in our society, including racism and white supremacy, Christian nationalism and religious fundamentalism, sexism and misogyny, gun violence, authoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, gangster capitalism, and immense inequality and injustice. There are not merely polarizing differences of opinion about politics in our society, but an existential struggle over the nature of reality.

These problems and so many others exist outside of simple solutions and the ability of one person or leader to solve them. This is not a pure or empirical claim, but right now America feels in a perilous condition, as if with just the right tug on its knot of problems everything could somehow come tumbling apart. To borrow from William Butler Yeats and Chinua Achebe, things do indeed fall apart — and countries sometimes destroy themselves.

Given all the problems facing the United States it is now imperative that we begin a national conversation about the present and future of American civilization. What does it mean to be an American in the 21st century? What are our core values? How do we heal and then improve our political, cultural, economic, and societal institutions?

Because America is a multiracial democracy — or is at least trying to become one — part of that self-examination and national soul-searching should also include how racism and white supremacy, sexism and misogyny and other anti-social and anti-human values are leaving the country vulnerable to chaos and harm.

If the American people and their leaders do not engage in such a project of democratic renewal and national reckoning — and sooner rather than later — the epitaph for American democracy and the country's leadership role in the world will likely read: "We did it to ourselves."

Legendary social scientist explains why we may be on the cusp of a new Progressive era

Last week, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) was passed by the Democrats in Congress — without a single Republican vote — and signed into law by President Biden. The $1.9 trillion ARP includes such provisions as $1,400 relief checks for most Americans, an increase in tax credits for low and middle-income earners to a maximum of $3,600 dollars a year per child under age six, more food assistance, $300 a week in additional unemployment insurance, hundreds of billions in funds for local and state governments, help in preventing renters and homeowners from being evicted or foreclosed upon, and more money for COVID-19 vaccines and research.

Unlike previous legislation passed by the Republicans during the Trump regime (and before), the vast majority of money and other assistance in the Biden administration's COVID-19 stimulus plan goes to poor, working class and middle-class Americans. By all reports, the vast majority of Americans will receive some form of aid from ARP.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson expands on this at Moyers on Democracy and also in her newsletter "Letters From an American":

Unlike the previous implementations of this theory, though, Biden's version, embodied in the American Rescue Plan, does not privilege white men (who in Lincoln and Roosevelt's day were presumed to be family breadwinners). It moves money to low-wage earners generally, especially to women and to people of color. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the child tax credit "a new lifeline to the middle class." "Franklin Roosevelt lifted seniors out of poverty, 90 percent of them with Social Security, and with the stroke of a pen," she said. "President Biden is going to lift millions and millions of children out of poverty in this country."

Many of the most important provisions in the ARP are likely to remain law because programs such as increasing the child tax credit are very popular with the public.

Because they are social Darwinists and plutocrats with no care or concern for the American people, Republicans in the House and Senate unanimously opposed the ARP. Contrary to how the Republicans and broader right-wing (with the help of neoliberal corporate Democrats) have spent decades creating a narrative that "big government" is the "enemy of the people", the ARP offers an example of how the U.S. government can respond quickly if it so chooses (and has the proper leadership): COVID survival checks have already begun to arrive in Americans' bank accounts.

The ARP is correctly being described as the most progressive legislation since the Great Society, and Biden appears keenly aware of his unique role in history as the successor to a neofascist who attempted a coup during a pandemic and left the country teetering on the edge of a potentially irreversible calamity.

To that end, on Friday Biden invoked Lyndon B. Johnson and the legacy of the Great Society during a Rose Garden speech, saying that this historic legislation "changes the paradigm":

For the first time in a long time, this bill puts working people in this nation first. It's not hyperbole; it's a fact.
For too long, it's been the folks at the top. They're not bad folks. A significant number of them know they shouldn't be getting the tax breaks they had. But it put the richest Americans first, who benefited the most. And the theory was — we've all heard it, and especially the last 15 years. The theory was: Cut taxes, and those at the top and the benefits they get will trickle down to everyone. Well, you saw what trickle-down does. We've known it for a long time. But this is the first time we've been able, since the Johnson administration and maybe even before that, to begin to change the paradigm.

We've seen time and time again that that trickle-down does not work. … This time, it's time that we build an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out. And this bill shows that when you do that, everybody does better. The wealthy do better. Everybody does better across the board.

What can the Democrats learn from history, to help maintain this progressive energy and momentum? How do the vast inequalities and other horrors seen in America's Gilded Age resemble the problems we see in America today? What lessons can be learned from how progressives fought back in that earlier era? And what does that overused term, "progressive," mean in 2021?

In an effort to answer, or at least address, these questions, I recently spoke with Robert Putnam, one of America and the world's most distinguished and influential social scientists. Putnam is currently the Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, and is a former president of the American Political Science Association and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2012, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal, the nation's most prestigious honor for contributions to the humanities.

He is the author of 15 books including the landmark "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community" and "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis." Putnam's new book is "The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again."

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How are you feeling, given all of the tumultuous changes and challenges the American people have been facing with the Age of Trump and now into Biden's presidency? We have gone from a nightmare scenario to some hope under Biden, but matters are still dire.

Given all the ups and downs of recent months — the pandemic, the economy and politics — prediction is hard, especially about the future. One can imagine many things going wrong — new virus strains, white nationalist terrorism and so on. That said, I'm feeling optimistic about where the country is headed, not merely in the short run, but even in the long run — and the long run is my main concern.

In my new book "The Upswing," I examine parallels between the second decade of the 21st century, and a period 125 years ago which is very much like our present. I argue that we should and likely will be replicating the kinds of changes that were pursued in the Progressive Era during the first part of the 20th century. There is a phenomenon called the "I-We-I" curve, a movement from selfishness to community to selfishness. That curve is ripe for change in the United States.

Biden and the Democrats just passed a landmark COVID relief and survival bill. Given your concerns about social progress, how do you assess Biden's presidency so far?

Biden is proving to be just what the doctor ordered for a shaken country, focused explicitly on "we," not "I." It's not just his well-known empathy for people in pain, nor his equally well-known propensity to work across the aisle, but also his ability to adapt to changed political circumstances. While he tried to work with Republicans on the Hill — and polls show that the public believes he was sincere in that effort — he also proved able to act on his own when the GOP party leaders blew him off. His rising poll numbers show that he's got most of the public, including many Republican voters, on his side.

From the Age of Trump and its many disasters to Biden's presidency and its potential and opportunities, it feels as though America is in a world-historical moment. Who knows what happens next? How do you make sense of what could be a true turning point in history?

I have that same feeling. I also felt that way during another pivot point in American history, which was the middle of the 1960s. I went to college in the fall of 1959 and graduated from college in the spring of '63. That was a period of time when we — the whole country, but especially college students and other young people — thought that we were going to change the world. We were going to end racism and social inequality, for example. Everybody in the world knew that big things were happening in all spheres of life. It's an experience that is very difficult to explain and describe to someone who has not lived through such a moment.

What about backlash and right-wing reactionary politics?

When you are in a world-historical moment, some moment of great change, you do not know how it is all going to turn out at the end. That's the nature of the thing. One is so close to the surface that they cannot get up to that 30,000-foot level and see what is happening in context, to see what is just around the corner. In the 1960s, we did not know what was going to happen next and it could have been anything. And in that case, what did in fact happen next was exactly the opposite of what we hoped. The reform movement of that period seemed to be winning, but then there was a dramatic reversal and basically bad things happened in every respect.

That was true in terms of racial justice. It was true in economic terms with Richard Nixon. Those questions of backlash are hanging over us now too.

If you could bring a Progressive-era activist through time to America today, what do you think they would see that is familiar? What would be different?

The first thing they would see would be completely familiar to them. That time traveler would see a world of great inequality. That is the world they knew in the Gilded Age. It was a world of intense political polarization like America's present. Social relations among people, that is, their connections to their families, to the community and to religion and so on, were weakening.

That time traveler would see that is true here today. Their era was one of great narcissism or even self-centeredness. That is true in America today as well, especially given Trump's presidency. He is the greatest narcissist of all.

And then, if our visitors from the Gilded Age were a bit more thoughtful, they would see that the strategies used during their era to fight back against inequality might work today as well.

We need a moral revival right now across issues such as racism and political polarization, and also more generally in terms of how our society treats human beings. We can learn from the Gilded Age how so many of our country's problems require local solutions as well.

During the Gilded Age there was a great amount of experimentation with local solutions which would be piloted in different parts of the country and then shared nationally if they worked. These were called "laboratories of democracy." Many of the solutions did not come from Washington. Then, as now, we also needed grassroots mobilization. And another echo of the past with the Progressive movement is how young people were the leaders. It will likely be young people who again lead the United States out of our current crises as well.

If you were to write a simple mission statement, what does it mean to be a progressive?

"We want to make progress." Progressives also believe that we have the right ideas about how to solve problems. However, progressives are not exclusive in how we find solutions to problems. Other people and groups may have good solutions as well.

A mission statement for progressives right now would be: Think morally. That is the first part of the mission statement. Progressives must think about how to make changes that will improve the lot of the least well-off people in society. Progressives should also think scientifically in terms of solutions and real evidence. Do not rely on old myths or hearsay and rumors.

What do we know empirically about the impact of social capital and the "I-We-I" curve on American society today?

Children who grow up in social isolation do far worse than children who grow up in communities where the "we" is emphasized. In such communities the neighbors look out for one another. "We-ness" also positively impacts education and health and social mobility. People who grow up in areas where there is low social capital do not live as long. They also have higher mortality rates from many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

How come America's death rate from COVID is so much higher than almost every other country in the world? How does such a thing happen?

The country was at the lowest ebb of our "we-ness," that sense of collective care and concern and identity. America was at a low point in social capital, which meant that when the pandemic hit we were more vulnerable than other countries. Trump did not cause that accidental coincidence. It was a function of low social capital and COVID happening at the same time.

What advice do you have for young progressive activists today?

Change happens because people want to make change. We are agents. We are not merely the objects of history. We are the agents of history. That's what change-makers during the Progressive Era understood. You can make a difference, and without you society is not going to change for the better.

Do you have any advice for the Biden administration and the Democratic Party on how to keep their momentum and work to create the progressive renewal you described?

Politically, their top priority has to be the midterm elections, and the American Rescue Plan is an excellent start. Whatever else may affect the Democrats' chances in 2022 — from Dr. Seuss to crises at the southern border to unexpected Supreme Court decisions to shenanigans in Trump's Republican Party to voter suppression — the electoral fundamentals next year will be, a) whether the pandemic is in the rearview mirror and b) whether the economy is booming again. All the experts agree that the COVID-19 rescue plan has more or less assured those two fundamentals. I'd much rather be playing Nancy Pelosi's hand than Mitch McConnell's hand over the next two years.

I'm focused much more on the next two decades than the next two years. But the prospects for the long run depend on what happens in the short and medium run. I'm more optimistic today than I have ever been in my life that within my lifetime. And I'm now 80! America may once again pivot toward a "we" society — more equal, less polarized, more altruistic, less socially fragmented and more attentive to historic, structural inequalities.


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